|The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus|
|Written by||Christopher Marlowe|
|Date premiered||c. 1592|
|Original language||Early Modern English|
|Setting||16th century Europe|
The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus, commonly referred to simply as Doctor Faustus, is an Elizabethan tragedy by Christopher Marlowe, based on German stories about the title character Faust. It was written sometime between 1589 and 1592, and might have been performed between 1592 and Marlowe's death in 1593. Two different versions of the play were published in the Jacobean era, several years later.
The powerful effect of early productions of the play is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them--that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance, "to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators", a sight that was said to have driven some spectators mad.
The Admiral's Men performed Doctor Faustus 24 times in the three years between October 1594 and October 1597. On 22 November 1602, the diary of Philip Henslowe recorded a £4 payment to Samuel Rowley and William Bird for additions to the play, which suggests a revival soon after that date.
The powerful effect of the early productions is indicated by the legends that quickly accrued around them. In Histriomastix, his 1632 polemic against the drama, William Prynne records the tale that actual devils once appeared on the stage during a performance of Faustus, "to the great amazement of both the actors and spectators". Some people were allegedly driven mad, "distracted with that fearful sight". John Aubrey recorded a related legend, that Edward Alleyn, lead actor of The Admiral's Men, devoted his later years to charitable endeavours, like the founding of Dulwich College, in direct response to this incident.
The play may have been entered into the Stationers' Register on 18 December 1592, though the records are confused and appear to indicate a conflict over the rights to the play. A subsequent Stationers' Register entry, dated 7 January 1601, assigns the play to the bookseller Thomas Bushnell, the publisher of the 1604 first edition. Bushnell transferred his rights to the play to John Wright on 13 September 1610.
Two versions of the play exist:
The 1604 version was once believed to be closer to the play as originally performed in Marlowe's lifetime, simply because it was older. By the 1940s, after influential studies by Leo Kirschbaum and W. W. Greg, the 1604 version came to be regarded as an abbreviation and the 1616 version as Marlowe's original fuller version. Kirschbaum and Greg considered the A-text a "bad quarto", and thought that the B-text was linked to Marlowe himself. Since then scholarship has swung the other way, most scholars now considering the A-text more authoritative, even if "abbreviated and corrupt", according to Charles Nicholl.
The 1616 version omits 36 lines but adds 676 new lines, making it roughly one third longer than the 1604 version. Among the lines shared by both versions, there are some small but significant changes in wording; for example, "Never too late, if Faustus can repent" in the 1604 text becomes "Never too late, if Faustus will repent" in the 1616 text, a change that offers a very different possibility for Faustus's hope and repentance.
Another difference between texts A and B is the name of the devil summoned by Faustus. Text A states the name is generally "Mephistopheles", while the version of text B commonly states "Mephostophilis". The name of the devil is in each case a reference to Mephistopheles in Faustbuch, the source work, which appeared in English translation in about 1588.
The relationship between the texts is uncertain and many modern editions print both. As an Elizabethan playwright, Marlowe had nothing to do with the publication and had no control over the play in performance, so it was possible for scenes to be dropped or shortened, or for new scenes to be added, so that the resulting publications may be modified versions of the original script.
In the past, it was assumed that the comic scenes were additions by other writers. However, most scholars today consider the comic interludes an integral part of the play, regardless of their author, and so they continue to be included in print. Their tone shows the change in Faustus's ambitions, suggesting Marlowe did at least oversee the composition of them. The clown is seen as the archetype for comic relief.
Doctor Faustus is based on an older tale; it is believed to be the first dramatization of the Faust legend. Some scholars believe that Marlowe developed the story from a popular 1592 translation, commonly called The English Faust Book. There is thought to have been an earlier, lost German edition of 1587, the Historia von D. Johann Fausten, which itself may have been influenced by even earlier, equally ill-preserved pamphlets in Latin (such as those that likely inspired Jacob Bidermann's treatment of the damnation of the doctor of Paris, Cenodoxus (1602)).
Several soothsayers or necromancers of the late fifteenth century adopted the name Faustus, a reference to the Latin for "favored" or "auspicious"; typical was Georgius Faustus Helmstetensis, calling himself astrologer and chiromancer, who was expelled from the town of Ingolstadt for such practices. Subsequent commentators have identified this individual as the prototypical Faustus of the legend.
Whatever the inspiration, the development of Marlowe's play is very faithful to the Faust Book, especially in the way it mixes comedy with tragedy.
However, Marlowe also introduced some changes to make it more original. He made three main additions:
He also emphasised Faustus' intellectual aspirations and curiosity, and minimised the vices in the character, to lend a Renaissance aura to the story.
Blank verse is largely reserved for the main scenes while prose is used in the comic scenes. Modern texts divide the play into five acts; act 5 being the shortest. As in many Elizabethan plays, there is a chorus (which functions as a narrator), that does not interact with the other characters but rather provides an introduction and conclusion to the play and, at the beginning of some Acts, introduces events that have unfolded.
Along with its history and language style, scholars have critiqued and analysed the structure of the play. Leonard H. Frey wrote a document entitled In the Opening and Close of Doctor Faustus, which mainly focuses on Faustus's opening and closing soliloquies. He stresses the importance of the soliloquies in the play, saying: "the soliloquy, perhaps more than any other dramatic device, involved the audience in an imaginative concern with the happenings on stage". By having Doctor Faustus deliver these soliloquies at the beginning and end of the play, the focus is drawn to his inner thoughts and feelings about succumbing to the devil.
The soliloquies also have parallel concepts. In the introductory soliloquy, Faustus begins by pondering the fate of his life and what he wants his career to be. He ends his soliloquy with the solution and decision to give his soul to the devil. Similarly in the closing soliloquy, Faustus begins pondering, and finally comes to terms with the fate he created for himself. Frey also explains: "The whole pattern of this final soliloquy is thus a grim parody of the opening one, where decision is reached after, not prior to, the survey".
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In the prologue, The Chorus introduces the reader to Faustus and his story. He is described as being "base of stock"; however, his intelligence and scholarship eventually earns him the degree of a Doctor at the University of Wittenburg. During this opening, the reader also gets a first clue to the source of Faustus's downfall. Faustus's tale is likened to that of Icarus, who flew too close to the sun and fell to his death when the sun melted his waxen wings. This is a hint to Faustus's end as well as bringing to the reader's attention the idea of hubris (excessive pride), which is represented in the Icarus story and ultimately Faustus'.
Faustus comments that he has mastered every subject he has studied. He depreciates Logic as merely being a tool for arguing; Medicine as being unvalued unless it allowed raising the dead and immortality; Law as being mercenary and beneath him; and Divinity as useless because he feels that all humans commit sin, and thus to have sins punishable by death complicates the logic of Divinity. He dismisses it as "What doctrine call you this? Que sera, sera" (What will be, shall be).
Faustus instructs his servant Wagner to summon Valdes and Cornelius, a famous witchcrafter and a famous magician, respectively. Two angels, called the Good Angel and the Bad Angel, appear to Faustus and dispense their own perspectives of his interest in magic and necromancy. Though Faustus seems momentarily dissuaded, he is apparently won over by the Bad Angel, proclaiming, "How am I glutted with conceit of this" ("conceit" meaning the possibilities magic offers to him). Valdes and Cornnelius declare that if Faustus devotes himself to magic, great things are indeed possible with someone of Faustus' learning and intelligence.
Faustus' absence is noted by two scholars who are less accomplished than Faustus himself. They request that Wagner reveal Faustus' present location, a request which Wagner at first haughtily denies, then bombastically reveals. The two scholars worry about Faustus being corrupted by the art of Magic and leave to inform the rector of the university.
That night, Faustus begins his attempt to summon a devil in the presence of Lucifer and other devils (although Faustus is unaware of their presence). After he creates a magic circle and speaks an incantation through which he revokes his baptism, a demon (a representative of the devil himself) named Mephistophilis appears before him, but Faustus is unable to tolerate the hideous looks of the demon and commands it to change its appearance. Faustus, seeing the obedience of the demon in changing its form, takes pride in his skill. He tries to bind the demon to his service, but is unable to because Mephistophilis already serves Lucifer, who is also called the Prince of Devils. Mephistophilis also reveals that it was not Faustus' power that summoned him but rather his abjuration of scriptures that results in the Devil coming in the hope of claiming Faustus' soul.
Mephistophilis introduces the history of Lucifer and the other devils while indirectly telling Faustus that Hell has no circumference nor limit and is more of a state of mind than a physical location. Faustus' inquiries into the nature of hell lead to Mephistophilis saying: "Oh, Faustus, leave these frivolous demands, which strikes a terror to my fainting soul".
Using Mephistophilis as a messenger, Faustus strikes a deal with Lucifer: he is to be allotted 24 years of life on Earth, during which time he will have Mephistophilis as his personal servant and the ability to use magic; however, at the end he will give his body and soul over to Lucifer as payment and spend the rest of time as one damned to Hell. This deal is to be sealed in the form of a contract written in Faustus' own blood. After cutting his arm, the wound is divinely healed and the Latin words Homo, fuge! ("Man, flee!") then appear upon it. Despite the dramatic nature of this divine intervention, Faustus disregards the inscription with the assertion that he is already damned by his actions thus far and therefore left with no place to which he could flee. Mephistophilis brings coals to break the wound open again, and thus Faustus is able to take his oath written in his own blood.
Faustus begins by asking Mephistophilis a series of science-related questions. However, the demon seems to be quite evasive and finishes with a Latin phrase, Per inoequalem motum respect totes ("through unequal motion with respect to the whole thing"). This sentence has not the slightest scientific value, thus giving the impression that Mephistophilis is not trustworthy.
Faustus then asks who made the world, a question which Mephistophilis refuses to answer (Mephistophilis knows that God made the world). When Faustus announces his intention to renounce magic and repent, Mephistophilis storms away. The good and evil angels return to Faustus: the Good Angel urges him to repent and recant his oath to Lucifer, but the Evil Angel sneers that Faustus will never repent. This is the largest fault of Faustus throughout the play: he is blind to his own salvation and remains set on his soul's damnation.
Lucifer, accompanied by Beelzebub and Mephistophilis, appears to Faustus and frightens him into obedience to their pact. Lucifer then, as an entertainment, brings to Faustus the personification of the seven deadly sins. Faustus fails to see them as warnings and ignores their implication.
From this point until the end of the play, although he gains great fame for his powers, Dr. Faustus does nothing worthwhile, having begun his pact with the attitude that he would be able to do anything. Instead, he merely uses his temporary powers for practical jokes and frivolous demonstrations to the nobility. Finally, with his allotted 24 years mostly expired and realizing that he has given up his soul for no good reason, Faustus appears to scholars and warns them that he is damned and will not be long on the Earth. He gives a speech about how he is damned and eventually seems to repent for his deeds.
At the end of the play, on the eleventh hour, Mephistophilis comes to collect Faustus' soul and Faustus is dragged off the stage to Hell by Mephistophilis and other devils even though Dr. Faustus tries to repent and beg for mercy from those devils. In the later 'B text' of the play, there is a subsequent scene [V.iii] where the three scholars discover his remains strewn about the stage: they state that Faustus was damned, one scholar declaring that the devils have torn him asunder, but they determine, because of Faustus' learning, to have him properly buried and mourned. Faustus says himself in the A text 'What are thou, Faustus, but a man condemned to die'
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The theological implications of Doctor Faustus have been the subject of considerable debate throughout the last century. Among the most complicated points of contention is whether the play supports or challenges the Calvinist doctrine of absolute predestination, which dominated the lectures and writings of many English scholars in the latter half of the sixteenth century. According to Calvin, predestination meant that God, acting of his own free will, elects some people to be saved and others to be damned--thus, the individual has no control over his own ultimate fate. This doctrine was the source of great controversy because it was seen by the so-called anti-Calvinists to limit man's free will in regard to faith and salvation, and to present a dilemma in terms of theodicy.
At the time Doctor Faustus was performed, this doctrine was on the rise in England, and under the direction of Puritan theologians at Cambridge and Oxford had come to be considered the orthodox position of the Church of England. Nevertheless, it remained the source of vigorous and, at times, heated debate between Calvinist scholars, such as William Whitaker and William Perkins, and anti-Calvinists, such as William Barrett and Peter Baro. The dispute between these Cambridge intellectuals had quite nearly reached its zenith by the time Marlowe was a student there in the 1580s, and likely would have influenced him deeply, as it did many of his fellow students.
Concerning the fate of Faustus, the Calvinist concludes that his damnation was inevitable. His rejection of God and subsequent inability to repent are taken as evidence that he never really belonged to the elect, but rather had been predestined from the very beginning for reprobation. In his Chiefe Points of Christian Religion, Theodore Beza, the successor to John Calvin, describes the category of sinner into which Faustus would most likely have been cast:
For the Calvinist, Faustus represents the worst kind of sinner, having tasted the heavenly gift and rejected it. His damnation is justified and deserved because he was never truly adopted among the elect. According to this view, the play demonstrates Calvin's "three-tiered concept of causation," in which the damnation of Faustus is first willed by God, then by Satan, and finally, by himself. As Calvin himself explains it in his Institutes of Christian Religion:
The anti-Calvinist view, however, finds such thinking repugnant, and prefers to interpret Doctor Faustus as a criticism of such doctrines. One of the greatest critics of Calvinism in Marlowe's day was Peter Baro, who argued that such teachings fostered despair among believers, rather than repentance among sinners. He claimed, in fact, that Calvinism created a theodical dilemma:
Baro recognised the threat of despair which faced the Protestant church if it did not come to an agreement of how to understand the fundamentals. For him, the Calvinists were overcomplicating the issues of faith and repentance, and thereby causing great and unnecessary confusion among struggling believers. Faustus himself confesses a similar sentiment regarding predestination:
"The reward of sin is death." That's hard.
..."If we say that we have no sin,
We deceive ourselves, and there's no truth in us."
Why then belike we must sin,
And so consequently die.
Ay, we must die an everlasting death.
What doctrine call you this? Che sera, sera,
"What will be, shall be"? Divinity, adieu!
Faustus includes a well-known speech addressed to the summoned shade of Helen of Troy, in Act V, scene I. The following is from the Gutenberg project e-text of the 1604 quarto (with footnotes removed).
Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium--
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.--
Her lips suck forth my soul: see, where it flies!--
Come, Helen, come, give me my soul again.
Here will I dwell, for heaven is in these lips,
And all is dross that is not Helena.
I will be Paris, and for love of thee,
Instead of Troy, shall Wertenberg be sack'd;
And I will combat with weak Menelaus,
And wear thy colours on my plumed crest;
Yea, I will wound Achilles in the heel,
And then return to Helen for a kiss.
O, thou art fairer than the evening air
Clad in the beauty of a thousand stars;
Brighter art thou than flaming Jupiter
When he appear'd to hapless Semele;
More lovely than the monarch of the sky
In wanton Arethusa's azur'd arms;
And none but thou shalt be my paramour!
Another well-known passage comes after Faustus asks Mephistophilis how he (Mephistophilis) is out of Hell, to which Mephistophilis replies:
Why this is hell, nor am I out of it.
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
"Ravished" by magic (1.1.112), Faustus turns to the dark arts when law, logic, science, and theology fail to satisfy him. According to Charles Nicholl this places the play firmly in the Elizabethan period when the problem of magic ("liberation or damnation?") was a matter of debate, and when Renaissance occultism aimed at a furthering of science. Nicholl, who connects Faustus as a "studious artisan" (1.1.56) to the "hands-on experience" promoted by Paracelsus, sees in the former a follower of the latter, a "magician as technologist".
Mephistophilis is a demon whom Faustus conjures up while first using magic. Readers initially feel sympathy for the demon when he attempts to explain to Faustus the consequences of abjuring God and Heaven. Mephistophilis gives Faustus a description of Hell and the continuous horrors it possesses; he wants Faustus to know what he is getting himself into before going through with the bargain:
Think'st thou that I who saw the face of God
And tasted the eternal joy of heaven
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells
In being deprived of everlasting bliss?
O Faustus, leave these frivolous demands
Which strikes a terror to my fainting soul! 
However, Faustus believes that supernatural powers are worth a lifetime in Hell:
Say he (Faustus) surrender up to him (Lucifer) his soul
So he will spare him four and twenty years,
Letting him live in all voluptuousness
Having thee (Mephistophilis) ever to attend on me 
Some scholars[who?] argue that Mephistophilis depicts the sorrow that comes with separation from God. Mephistophilis is foreshadowing the pain Faustus would have to endure, should he go through with his plan. In this facet, Faustus can be likened to Icarus, whose insatiable ambition was the source of his misery and the cause of his plight.
The first television adaptation was broadcast in 1947 by the BBC starring David King-Wood as Faustus and Hugh Griffith as Mephistopheles. In 1958, another BBC television version starred William Squire as Faustus in an adaptation by Ronald Eyre intended for schools. In 1961, the BBC adapted the play for television as a two-episode production starring Alan Dobie as Faustus; this production was also meant for use in schools.
The play was adapted for the screen in 1967 by Richard Burton and Nevill Coghill, who based the film on an Oxford University Dramatic Society production in which Burton starred opposite Elizabeth Taylor as Helen of Troy.
On 24 December 1995, BBC Radio 3 broadcast an adaptation of the play with Stephen Moore as Faustus, Philip Voss as Mephistopheles and Maurice Denham as the Old Man. A second adaptation was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 23 September 2007, this time with Paterson Joseph as Faustus, Ray Fearon as Mephistopheles, Toby Jones as Wagner, Janet McTeer as the Evil Angel and Anton Lesser as the Emperor.
The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation broadcast a full radio adaptation of the play with Kenneth Welsh as Faustus and Eric Peterson as Mephistopheles and later released it on audio cassette (ISBN 978-0-660-18526-2) in 2001 as part of its "Great Plays of the Millennium" series.
Two live performances in London have been videotaped and released on DVD: one at the Greenwich Theatre in 2010 and one at the Globe Theatre in 2011 starring Paul Hilton as Faustus and Arthur Darvill as Mephistopheles.
Doctor Faustus has raised much controversy due to its alleged interaction with the demonic realm. Before Marlowe, there were few authors who ventured into this kind of writing. After his play, other authors began to expand on their views of the spiritual world.
No Elizabethan play outside the Shakespeare canon has raised more controversy than Doctor Faustus. There is no agreement concerning the nature of the text and the date of composition... and the centrality of the Faust legend in the history of Western world precludes any definitive agreement on the interpretation of the play...
The name has many forms: Marlowe writes Mephistophilis...